Keiji Inafune, the outspoken former head of development at Capcom, has said that the Japanese game industry needs to broaden its scope and embrace mobile and social games to avoid falling further behind its western equivalent.
Inafune said last year that Japanese developers were lagging five years behind their western peers, and he told 1UP that little had changed since. "As time goes on now they're six years behind, a year later they'll be seven years, because they're not making the right key decisions in order to move the engine forward in order to catch up and actually keep pace with the west," he said. "They continue to fall back more and more."
The first thing that needs to change, he says, is an attitude that sees Japan primarily make games for Japanese hardware. While it is a business model that has reaped dividends for decades, Inafune says developers need to recognise the opportunities that exist outside of that comfort zone.
"One of the biggest weaknesses that a lot of Japanese developers have is they tend to flock towards development that is one largely based around consoles," he said. "They seem to go with what's coming out in Japan, the piece of hardware that's closest to where they live, like the NGP or the 3DS – those are all marketed very heavily in Japan and therefore a lot of developers just naturally tend to flow towards that.
"But what they're not realising is that Android or iOS or even a Facebook app, all of these may not be hardware per se but they are a huge target audience, a huge installed base, a huge area they could develop for and they're just not doing it. I have an Android phone and I play a lot of games on it and a lot of them that are the most interesting are developed in the west. You actually have to go out of your way to find a Japanese-developed game."
While some Japanese firms have taken steps to embrace these new markets – Hudson, now a Konami subsidiary, is to focus on social and mobile development, and the likes of Yakuza and Shenmue have been turned into social games – Inafune fears that Japan may have already missed the boat. "What you're going to see is a huge rift between those new consoles that are coming out that are marketed towards Japanese and what seems to be booming in the west, smartphone games etc, and a lot of them are not going to flock towards smartphone games until perhaps it's too late," he said.
Inafune left Capcom last October, and confirmed that he had set up two new companies in April: Comcept, a cross-media think tank; and Intercept, a game studio. He said that he will not have anything to show off at next month's E3, but hopes to be at the Tokyo Game Show later this year to reveal what Intercept has been working on.